Monday, April 22, 2013


“When Rabbit said, `Honey or condensed milk with your bread?' he was so excited that he said, `Both,' and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, `But don't bother about the bread, please.'” 
– A.A. Milne 

One small family, morning edging its way over the horizon, peeking through the trees. Lush green surrounded the old stone farmhouse. No luxury holiday getaway, no elegant inn. Rather an old family-owned farm nestled in the Tuscan countryside. The mournful lowing of the cows broke the silence as we made our way through the damp grass and the heavy mist towards the open kitchen door, following the warm glow of the lights within. We were invited to join the family, the stout cheerful mamma and her two burly grown sons, around the long farm table with its flowered plastic oilcloth spread. We scooted old wooden chairs up to the table, the scent of cows mingling with the fragrance of fresh bread warm from the oven. Crockery clattered, coffee perked, the sounds of contented eating and vibrant Italian filled the room, pouring over me like warm milk into upturned hands.

And then a bowl of steaming milk was placed in front of each of us. “Fresh from the cow this morning,” la mamma proudly exclaimed. Carried in from the barn in a bucket and boiled in a saucepan on the stove, the comforting fragrance of the milk rose on soft curls of steam, the scent unlocking memories of childhood and creamy bowls of milky oatmeal on a Sunday morning. Hands wrapped around the bowl to ward off the autumn chill, I dip my head towards the white liquid, close my eyes and breathe.

The simple dignity of a child drinking a bowl of milk embodies the fascination of an ancient rite. 
– Carl Sandburg 

 Our first taste, first nourishment, first sensation. 

 Milk. Ice cold milk in our favorite glass with the cartoon characters jiggling around in circles, tiny, plump fingers clutching the tumbler, wet and slippery; ice cold milk with cookies and cake, the perfect partner. Older now, that same perfect pairing calls, sending out waves of innocence and nostalgia. A peanut butter sandwich is just not lunch without a glass of milk, balanced on knees while sitting wedged in the branches of a tree. A glass of milk washing away tears, liquid white dribbling down from the corners of lips, arm brushed across the mouth in a gesture of wonton carelessness. 

 Handfuls of snow. 

 Milk warm and consoling, a craving born of something innate, something both animal and sensual. The white, white purity of milk, the softness of silk, white sheets shimmering down bare arms. Riz au lait, memories of a French childhood of thick, heavy pudding, rice long-simmered in milk, sweetened and splashed with vanilla. A special treat, oh-so ordinary, spooned up and fed to the little ones like medicine, to plump and protect. 


A creamy rice and milk stovetop pudding best eaten warm, comfort food, homey and good, redolent of sweet memories. Perfect as is, this riz au lait can also be served topped with cooked fruit, a spoonful of jam or simmered with dried fruit and dusted with chopped nuts.


200 g/7 oz uncooked rice for risotto or pudding
750 ml/3 ¼ cups whole milk or half low-fat milk + half light or heavy cream
100 – 120 g/7 – 8 Tbs sugar or to taste
1 vanilla bean
Pinch of salt
15 g/1 Tbs unsalted butter

 Place the rice in a fine-holed sieve or chinois and rinse under running water until the water runs clear. Drain.

 Place the rinsed rice in a saucepan and cover with water; bring the water to a boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes. Drain the rice.

 Return the drained rice to a medium-sized saucepan with the whole milk (or half low-fat milk and half cream), 1 tablespoon of the sugar and a pinch of salt. Using a small, sharp knife split the vanilla bean down the center and scrape out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the pod to the other ingredients in the saucepan. Bring it just up to the boil and then immediately turn the heat down to very low and, placing a cover atop the saucepan but leaving it ajar, allow the pudding to simmer, stirring often, for 30 to 35 minutes or until the rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid. The rice should be very soft almost melting in the mouth; it should not be al dente. The pudding should be creamy, neither runny nor dry.

 Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove and discard the vanilla bean pod. Stir in the tablespoon of butter and about half of the remaining sugar. Taste and add as much of the remaining sugar until desired sweetness. Spoon into individual serving dishes, glasses or bowls and serve.

A simple but pretty perfect cake, moist with a clean vanilla flavour.


3 eggs
235 g/8 1/4 oz sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125 g/4 3/8 oz ricotta
75 g/2 5/8 oz  butter, salted
230 g/8 1/8 oz flour
1 tsp baking powder

  Whisk eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the vanilla extract. Pass the ricotta through a sieve in order to avoid clumps in the batter, add it to the eggs and sugar and whisk until the batter is smooth.

   Melt the butter and add it to the batter, stirring until smooth. Sift flour and baking powder into the bowl, mix well.

   Pour batter into a greased Bundt pan and bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out dry.


  1. Oh, what a wonderful post and awesome collaboration! Both recipes are delightful.



  2. That ricotta cake sounds delicious! We've made ricotta for manicotti on many occasions but it didn't really occur to us to use it to make dessert!

    And I know that my husband neeeeeeeeds to try the rice pudding. Il adore riz au lait!

    I love that you two are doing this! But I have a request. Will you consider changing the font? It's devilishly difficult to read on my computer even when I enlarge it.

    1. We will discuss the font.... We actually wanted something that was unique! And I really want to try this ricotta cake!

    2. What font have you chosen? (I cannot figure out what default sans-serif font keeps loading here. It certainly is unique. But I'm not sure it's what you intended.)

      I really want to try the ricotta cake too!

  3. THis blog is such a wonderful idea, Jamie! I admire Ilva's photography and you already know that I adore your writing. Congratulations!

    1. Oh thank you Lana! You are always such an amazing encouragement for me - even more because you are such a stupendous writer. And I hope Ilva's beautiful work inspires me to go in new directions.

  4. Good luck Jamie and Ilva, a wonderful partnership! I want to try the rice pudding, looks so comforting.

  5. Love the new blog, my only one critique is the font. Spare me the indignity of taking off my vari-focals and peering at the screen, and I promise to be an avid follower



  6. Gorgeous Photography and I can't wait to try that beautiful cake and cafe au lait!

  7. Jamie - congratulations on such a brilliant collaboration. It is all so beautiful - both words (which conjured up memories of drinking milk fresh and still warm from the cow when I was a kid) and images. I love it and I just happen to have some very fresh ricotta in the fridge, so no prizes for guessing what I'll be making later today.
    By the way - milk wasn't always so very pure and at one stage was one of the most adulterated foods available. It has quite a chequered history.

  8. You guys are genius. Apart, you are two of the most talented and lovely food writers but together, you're unstoppable. It's only a matter of time before this becomes one of the most popular blogs out there. I LOVE the ricotta cake and cannot wait to get back and make it - 1 month, I am literally counting down the days.

    I agree with Roo on the font, since you have so many beautiful words, it would be easier to read them in a simpler font. I found myself accidentally skipping over words. You could leave it for titles though because it is pretty!


  9. Such peaceful photos and cozy words. I love these dishes and the comfort they impart. :-)

  10. Cosy and tasteful! Photos are beautiful!
    It wasn't the most readable font for the screen, though - think twice about that. /Kim

  11. Congrats, Jamie and Ilva, on your new blog uniting your two outstanding talents in words and pictures!

    Happy to try out your ricotta cake recipe as I have some ricotta sitting in the fridge crying out to be made into beautiful comfort food!

  12. This is beautiful! I felt hugged by the words which rocked me as I read. A smile sat on my face till I reached the end of the post. Jamie, you are such gifted wiriter. And Ilva, your images are poetic and powerful. They linger in my mind, transporting me to unimaginable places.

  13. Congratulation to both of you. May you have a smashing success and may you do exactly what you like to do.
    Can I please ask you for something? Not all you readers are young, and although the looks of the blog is very nice, being so pale and delicate, it is too hard to read those pale words. Can you do something about it? Thank you.

  14. What a gorgeous Ricotta cake Ilva! I grew up with Riz au lait but I hadn't made it in ages. Milk is so essential in our lives, I only realized that when I moved from Austria. We used to get it fresh from the cow (which of course has a strong smell) since we are actually farmers. I used to drink it in my asterix glass(emptied Dijon mustard glasses) and I would dip my cassecroute in it. ^.^ Those were times...

  15. What a team! Fabulous work. Stunning photography, Ilva, and stunning writing... Jamie, I LOVE your 'pouring over me like warm milk into upturned hands.' Comforting reading as well as the recipes. Bravo!

  16. What fun working together, you two. I have never had riz au lait. My grandmother made it when I was little but I refused to try it. I was such a brat.

  17. Yay! I LOVE the new font.

    Maureen, I would refuse to try it even now. I am such a brat. But I'd pretend that it was because I'm being noble and letting my husband have all of it because he adores any kind of rice pudding.

  18. These sound delicious and your photos are absolutely beautiful!

  19. For years I have followed Ilva's postings with pleasure, and now I am receiving the fruit of a beautiful new collaboration. Thanks, ladies!

  20. Such beautiful pics!! I love milk and anything dairy!

    With the riz au lait, as careful as Iam with the cinnamon in my (swedish) pancakes, I just pour it over the swedish variant of riz au lait (risgrynsgröt). Also tend to add a tiny bit of lemon zest to give it a tiny sparkle.

  21. A gorgeous first post, and both wonderful recipes! Ricotta is one of my favorite things to bake with and rice pudding (without eggs, I love it) is probably my favorite childhood dessert.